Full Photo Gallery Below Review!
It’s a true pleasure to watch folks really, really good at what they do ply their craft. We get a palpable thrill seeing Olympic athletes strut their stuff, and the same goes for artists operating with hard won skill, obvious passion, terrific showmanship, and no small measure of x-factor (natural talent, charisma, etc.). Such was the case with Marillion at the tour ender at The Fillmore for their first North American tour in 8 years.
Again and again one was struck by how absolutely together, how completely on it in every way this band of veterans were, commanders of the stage and their intricate but rarely unapproachable catalog. This last point is important. For all its complexities and long form expression, this music is laced up with gorgeous melodies, hooks galore, memorable choruses, air guitar inspiring riffs and more that make it so easy to like, so easy to see just how fundamentally great what they do truly is. The world is cruel and this is just another example when a band this terrific isn’t a chart-topper everywhere. In many respects, Marillion are too good for the charts as they exist in the early 21st century. Firmly entrenched in prickly, truth-telling environments like “King,” “The Invisible Man” and “Man of a Thousand Faces” it struck me how Marillion might be the rock band Carl Jung might have formed if he’d come of age in the time of The Beatles and other great 60s pop culture pioneers. And this is perhaps not the vibe one wants if they intend to compete with Justin Bieber and Maroon 5. So be it. The less traveled path suits them better anyway.
There are great depths to this group but never offered in a way that one can’t still just bob their head and grok in an immediate way, a layered thing to be experienced in multiple ways that will likely shift over one’s life. And it was clear that most of the people inside the storied San Francisco venue were Marillion lifers, this music the soundtrack to their coming of age, to marriages and divorces, to significant moments that might only have occurred between them and these songs yet a relationship as meaningful and substantial as one built in fleshly real time, that strange, beautiful alchemy that sometimes miraculously occurs between musicians and their fans charging the air.
The connectivity and hyper-awareness of nuance in the room was a real joy. Too often we go to see live music and find ourselves surrounded by chatter that has nothing to do with what’s happening onstage, a glaring disconnect that interferes with one’s ability to rise and fall upon a collective tide. Not so at Marillion’s farewell to America for 2012, where all the key lines were punched with authority, the band the recipients of much visible love, the many hours we’d spent with their work glowing on our faces and cracking our voices as we sung of Easter and the happiness of the road. Even the few folks that seemed to be there to see a band that disappeared in the late 80s (seriously, the guy who screamed out a request for “Grendel” needs to get a time machine and join us in 2012) ultimately came around, the quality and reach of the band’s recent material doing the trick even for the chunk of the audience that seemed unfamiliar with newer jewels like “The Other Half”.
Marillion appear unfazed by this dynamic, moving onward with what they do in a way that makes them relevant and a peer to critic’s darlings like Radiohead and Beck rather than some dodgy “prog-rock band” still lumbering around and trotting out early favorites for an increasingly paunchy, beardy core constituency. In some ways, Marillion seems as surprised as anyone that their strange engine keeps turning over and carrying them further down the creative highway. It’s a happy surprise to be sure and one that makes one curious but also wonderfully uncertain where each new chapter will take them [check out the first finished track to be shared from their forthcoming Sounds That Can’t Be Made below and pre-order the album here]. Having boarded in the days of Fugazi and really committed myself to the cause once Steve Hogarth was firmly entrenched, I can only say that I’m along for the distance, lads. Wherever you want to go, especially based on what I experienced in SF, is somewhere I want to be.
Splintering Heart, Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven), Slàinte Mhath, The Other Half, Fantastic Place, The Great Escape, Easter, Afraid of Sunlight, Power, King, Sugar Mice, Man of a Thousand Faces, Neverland.
E1: The Invisible Man
E2: This Strange Engine
E3: Happiness Is the Road
Josh Miller – worth noting, a first time Marillion concert attendee that was fairly smitten with what he saw – brings us these fabulous captures from the night.